I understand this is quite a complicated title, however I have failed to discover a word (or a few words) to adequately describe the creative language used when changing a saying (or well-known phrase) into something slightly different, with a different meaning but still echoing the original phrase used.

As much as that was a horrible way of trying to explain the concept, I will provide an example that expressed want I want to sufficiently and coherently explain.

A reasonably well-known phrase which was used on a recent Batman film by Christopher Nolan (although this won't have been the first use of the phrase) is:

Some people just want to watch the world burn

Recently, I came across this photo which was a very clever (in my opinion) use of that phrase, changing it slightly to give it a different meaning based upon the current situation:

Some thugs just want to watch the world learn [see photo below]

Which is very clever and I was wondering if there is a word that describes the creative language used here.

Any insight would be much appreciated.

  • 4
    That picture reminds me of the story of how when Sir William Rowan Hamilton was crossing the Broom Bridge in Dublin he suddenly realised how to make quaternions works and, lacking pen and paper to take notes, scratched "i² = j² = k² = ijk = −1" onto the bridge. (But should he really be accused of vandalism; it was after all imaginary...).
    – Jon Hanna
    Commented Jan 5, 2015 at 14:13
  • I have a feeling that the rhyme there was more of a lucky coincidence than intentional. Anything would do in fact.
    – Kris
    Commented Jan 5, 2015 at 14:37
  • 3
    I disagree, the rhyming between 'learn' and 'burn' in fact connects it better to the original phrase, and adds to the humour of the statement. Commented Jan 5, 2015 at 15:02
  • 1
    Unrelated to your specific example, which is most accurately as snowclone, is the practice of Rhyming Slang: "a form of phrase construction in the English language and is especially prevalent in dialectal English from the East End of London; hence the alternative name, Cockney rhyming slang. The construction involves replacing a common word with a rhyming phrase of two or three words and then, in almost all cases, omitting the secondary rhyming word (which is thereafter implied), in a process called hemiteleia, [obscuring the origin and meaning]."
    – Patrick M
    Commented Jan 5, 2015 at 16:46
  • 1
    Also, that specific phrase is an example of an evolving meme. The direct quote from Batman: The Dark Knight was memeified by just putting the text over unassuming or ill-fitting images (e.g. Teletubbies, MarchingBand kid, Rush Limbaugh). I wager it appeared on an image board long before being misquoted (thugs instead of men) on tumblr (which is where the comment exchange is from). My favorite example (but also not the first to snowclone the phrase) is this picture featuring Bill Nye, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Fred Rogers, Carl Sagan, Bob Ross and Levar Burton.
    – Patrick M
    Commented Jan 5, 2015 at 16:58

4 Answers 4


The term that describes this phenomenon is snowclone, which Collins defines as

a verbal formula that is adapted for reuse by changing only a few words so that the allusion to the original phrase remains clear

Note, however, that this definition says nothing about the extent to which the new word(s) may or may not rhyme with what they replace.

According to Collins, snowclone is a 21st-century coinage which derives from the common formula "If the Inuit have N words for snow, then surely X have Y words for Z" + clone.

  • 9
    This is a bit more specific than a snowclone, but I think you may have the most specific term that exists. Perhaps "rhyming snowclone", based on your answer, is as close to an answer as we can get.
    – Jon Hanna
    Commented Jan 5, 2015 at 14:16
  • 3
    That is an absolutely brilliant word! Commented Jan 5, 2015 at 14:27
  • 6
    @JonHanna So, "rhymeclone," to snowclone snowclone.
    – Kris
    Commented Jan 5, 2015 at 14:35
  • @Kris oh dear gods, no.
    – Jon Hanna
    Commented Jan 5, 2015 at 14:37
  • 3
    +1 because the meme-process the asker is searching for is definitely snowcloning. But snowcloning absolutely drives off of just the phrasing and does not need to rhyme, which I think you should emphasize in your answer. Snowclones.org has a fairly early (in internet years) record of the snowcloning process.
    – Patrick M
    Commented Jan 5, 2015 at 17:04

The Jargon File describes this as "soundalike slang".

Hackers will often make rhymes or puns in order to convert an ordinary word or phrase into something more interesting... Terms of this kind that have been in fairly wide use include names for newspapers:... Wall Street Journal → Wall Street Urinal

Arguably, soundalike slang refers to accepted slang terms for things, woven into otherwise normal speech, whilst snowcloning refers to a specific joke.


From http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/pun we have:

the humorous use of a word or phrase so as to emphasize or suggest its different meanings or applications, or the use of words that are alike or nearly alike in sound but different in meaning; a play on words.

This is in accord with what I've always called what you describe: a pun. Substituting a word for a rhyme counts as using a word that sounds alike. It's almost the most basic form of pun there is. We might say 'the right to arm bears' (the same words have different meaning) or 'the right to bear farms' and have a picture of someone uncaging a bunch of bears in a farmer's frontyard (now a similar sounding word has different meaning, too).

So, you can safely call this a pun and be understood. I appreciate the more recent evolution of a more specific term of 'snowclone', as well, but I'm not sure it quite covers the sense of lyricalness. However, I'm pretty sure the wit is inherent in the choice of using an allusion.

I think soundalike slang is more appropriate when the usage is more about defining the language of your group and less about wit--when it becomes a formula.


”Snowquote” Which by the way I found this search for similar to “snowcloning” while in search of how to enter one of my quotes into the book of quotable quotes and learned there is a name for or a search for a name of what I did with a very old and popular quote. If I un veil my “snowquote” for “snow-cloning” here and it’s accepted as a term , how does a new term or word get adopted officially?
So now I have a “ Snow quote “ quote or a “smowclone “ But looking for the how to enter it and or how to get credited if possible?


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